Neighbor: I was ‘standing in death’

The Associated Press


Neighbors thought a plane had crashed outside, and firefighters desperately tried to get to a man trapped inside his southside home after the house next door exploded.

Firefighters and residents described a chaotic scene during an emotional first day of testimony in the trial of an Indianapolis man charged in a deadly 2012 house explosion. One homeowner said he had the impression he was “standing in death.”

More than a dozen people testified Tuesday at the trial of Mark Leonard. Prosecutors said Leonard plotted to blow up his then-girlfriend’s Richmond Hill house to collect insurance money to pay off debts. Leonard’s defense attorney said he had intended to start a small fire.

Two neighbors, Southwest Elementary School teacher Jennifer Longworth and her husband John “Dion” Longworth, died in the explosion.

Firefighters who responded to the scene choked up as they recalled trying to reach John “Dion” Longworth, but then were beaten back by flames.

Fire Battalion Chief Mark Culver became emotional describing firefighters’ efforts to rescue Longworth the night of the blast as dazed residents walked around in pajamas.

Lt. Russell Futrell testified that the sound of the blast woke him at a nearby fire station and left him wondering whether a plane had crashed.

A recording of firefighters frantically calling for water while trying to save Longworth was played for jurors.

Jurors also heard some of the 274 calls placed to 911 after the blast.

Leonard was charged with murder, arson, insurance fraud and conspiracy in connection with the 2012 blast that damaged or destroyed about 80 homes. His then-girlfriend, Monserrate Shirley, the homeowner, also has been charged and is expected to testify against Leonard. Three others have also been charged, and their cases are pending.

Leonard’s trial could last six weeks in the St. Joseph County court. The trial was moved due to media coverage in central Indiana.